02/16/13

On being a left wing pinko socialist


Amazon.My left-wing, pro-union friends would be amused to hear me called a “leftie.” They generally think of me as right as Steven Harper. The only difference to them, I suppose, is my unwillingness to sell Canada to the highest corporate bidder (Chinese or American…). My right-wing friends think I’m somewhere between Karl Marx and the late Jack Layton.

I’ve always thought of myself as a “political agnostic.” Probably due to years in the media where cynicism about politicians and politicians is rife. I pursue humanist goals,* not party goals. I simply have no faith in party politics.

I don’t see this as a refusal to take sides, merely a refusal to be drawn into the herd mentality of party politics. I take sides over issues, not over ideologies (which are akin to debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin). Sometimes I side with the government; other times with the opposition. It depends on how I understand the issue, and on my conscience, not what colour of party card I own.

Party politics are to social reality what creationism or astrology are to science. Parties do not give us, nor have they ever given us, a foolproof guide for economic, social or cultural pathfinding. All party platforms are fundamentally flawed because they always devolve down to being soapboxes for the party leader’s personal agendas. And as Lord Acton wrote,

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

I like municipal politics because they are, at least in small centres like Collingwood, free of the partisan squabbles we see at provincial and federal levels (barring, of course, a recent term). Party politics and municipal governance are a toxic, self-destructive mix that distracts councils from the real, local issues into shadowboxing over irrelevant ones.

Like most Canadians, I hover somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum. Centrist, but not personally bound to any party. I can’t think of any party that has a platform I completely endorse, or one that has a platform I entirely reject. There are good and bad in all.**

Not only that, but policies and platforms shift over time. The Conservative policies under Diefenbaker were very different party than those under Harper, for example. The NDP of Broadbent and the NDP under Mulcair are different animals.

Question authority

Blind allegiance to party ends up being blind allegiance to the leader and his or her personal agendas. Political wisdom means you have to question authority, and challenge bad ideas. In party politics, that’s not allowed.

When I vote it is on how the candidates respond to questions, debate issues and appear to think on their feet – not how well they spout the party line. I try to judge political figures as individuals, not by their platform. I expect them to be credible, honest, logical, intelligent, and not ideological. I won’t vote for anyone who doesn’t have an open, questing and nimble mind (although sometimes the choice of local candidate isn’t always among intellectual giants…).

I am more concerned about what is promised for the greater good; what policies and legislation will benefit local residents, Ontarians or Canadians most, rather than which will best reinforce the party line.

To me party politics is a lot like religion: too much blind faith, not enough skepticism or secularism. Blind adherence to a platform is what has led Americans into their current quagmire. Far, far too many ideologues on both sides. It makes it impossible to accomplish anything in the US without an overwhelming majority.***

All that being said, Canada is a moderately socialist country in that we translate European humanist values into policy and law: we have general (but far from universal) health care, a modest welfare and social assistance system (despite Steven’s attempts to relegate the poor to workhouses…), a common educational system, a legal support system, a national broadcaster (despite Steven’s efforts to muzzle it), collective bargaining (also under siege) and we still have a modicum of control over our banks and (less so) corporations. These institutions and policies make up the core values of being a Canadian. Any attack on them is an attack on our identity, so I will always side with those who defend them.

~~~~~

* More properly, secular humanism, which Wikipedia notes, “…posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god. It does not, however, assume that humans are either inherently evil or innately good, nor does it present humans as being superior to nature. Rather, the humanist life stance emphasizes the unique responsibility facing humanity and the ethical consequences of human decisions.” I would also call it Buddhist politics: “The Buddhist approach to political power is the moralization and the responsible use of public power.The Buddha discussed the importance and the prerequisites of a good government. He showed how the country could become corrupt, degenerate and unhappy when the head of the government becomes corrupt and unjust. He spoke against corruption and how a government should act based on humanitarian principles.” However, my approach to Buddhism is very secular and not religious; more along the lines of Batchelor and Flanagan.

** Well, perhaps the Tea Party can be excused from that statement, because I can’t think of a single good, logical, humanist thing in their platform.
A shining example of the good-and-bad paired in a party policy is the Ontario Liberals’ policy on green energy. The thrust is good (alternative energy is basically a good cause), but the implementation – including the lack of municipal input into the process – has been bad and very contentious. I really like Tim Hudak’s Ontario PC promise to reform the “alphabet soup” of redundant, interfering and excessive government agencies, but his promise to scrap existing green energy deals is economically foolish and counterproductive. Good and bad in both parties’ platforms.

*** From a Canadian point of view, the two US parties are both right wing; one (the Democrats) is just less right than the other. To label the Democrats “left-wing” let alone “socialist” shows a misunderstanding of the terminology. It is better to use alternative terms that relate to policies or proposed legislation such as pro-people (Democrat) versus pro-corporation (Republican), pro-middle-class (Dem) vs pro-rich (Rep), pro-gun-control (Dem) vs pro-weapons-manufacturers (Rep) and so on, when describing the differences.
The parties are also split along religious lines (the Republicans put much greater stock in promoting into law a particular subset of fundamentalist Christian values). I personally don’t like the Republican platform or most of its representatives because I am adamant about the separation of church and state.
Republican policies, too, are clearly aimed at benefitting the rich and the corporations rather than the American people and that offends my humanist views.
Many of the GOP members are, frankly, as smart as a bag of nails. So are some of the Democrats, but not nearly as many. I respect intelligence, not blind faith. So yes, I tend to side with the Democrats more than the Republicans because they make more sense and show they care more about the people they represent.

02/16/13

Albert and the Lion


Book of Albert poemsA recent comment on Facebook – “You just can’t resist poking the bear…”* made me remember a poem by Marriott Edgar that I enjoyed as a child in the 1950s: Albert and the Lion. I actually first heard it orally – we had a collection of old 78s and a wind-up gramophone in the basement. Among the musical treasures were several monologues by Stanley Holloway who read this and several other poems about Young Albert, accompanied by a piano that accented his words.

There was a book, too, probably brought from England by my father when he came over in the late 1940s. It had this and several other poems by Marriott. It was published in the 1930s and had great illustrations.I found the cover online at another blogger’s site. The poems were funny, but also darkly comic, like this one:

I’ll tell of the Battle of Hastings,
As happened in days long gone by,
When Duke William became King of England,
And ‘Arold got shot in the eye.

Albert and the 'eadsman
Or this one about the headsman and the ghost of Anne Boleyn:

The ‘Eadsman chased Jane round the grass patch
They saw his axe flash in the moon
And seeing as poor lass were ‘eadless
They wondered what what next he would prune.

He suddenly caught sight of Albert
As midnight was on its last chime
As he lifted his axe, father murmered
‘We’ll get the insurance this time.’

Boy's Own AnnualI may still have a copy of Edgar’s wonderful book in my own collection. Not sure what became of it, but it was well-read even when I first found it. I remember it well. remember the feel of it, how the pages smelled, how it folded in my hands as I sat on the couch and read it. It had the English price on the cover, which was a number very odd to a boy raised in Canada. Just added to the magic.

My father had brought an odd assortment of books with him, including several Boys’ Own Annuals, some dating from the early 1900s. I read them, too, in that basement, while 78 rpm records played. I still have a couple of those Boy’s Own books, upstairs. We used to get parcels at Christmas with Beano and other British comics in them. But I always went back to the Albert poems.

I can still hear Holloway’s Lancashire voice intoning the words as I read them in the book. “Sam, Sam, pick oop tha moosket, Sam,” said Holloway, dryly. My father was from the north, outside Manchester, and probably didn’t find the accent funny or his odd grammar mysterious, but I delighted in it and loved to imitate it.

I loved those recordings. I listened to them over and over and I can still remember many verses and lines. And of course many of these are on YouTube today. Wonderful memories… here’s what I used to hear. Imagine an eight-year-old strutting, pretending to be the characters, making faces like the bemused parents, frowning like the dour magistrate, poking his imaginary stick at the lion:

Here’s the poem itself. The verses that came to mind are in bold:

There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That’s noted for fresh-air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.

A grand little lad was their Albert
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
‘E’d a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle
The finest that Woolworth’s could sell.

They didn’t think much to the ocean
The waves, they was fiddlin’ and small
There was no wrecks… nobody drownded
‘Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.

So, seeking for further amusement
They paid and went into the zoo
Where they’d lions and tigers and cam-els
And old ale and sandwiches too.

There were one great big lion called Wallace
His nose were all covered with scars
He lay in a som-no-lent posture
With the side of his face to the bars.

Now Albert had heard about lions
How they were ferocious and wild
And to see Wallace lying so peaceful
Well… it didn’t seem right to the child.

So straight ‘way the brave little feller
Not showing a morsel of fear
Took ‘is stick with the’orse’s ‘ead ‘andle
And pushed it in Wallace’s ear!

You could see that the lion didn’t like it
For giving a kind of a roll
He pulled Albert inside the cage with ‘im
And swallowed the little lad… whole!

Then Pa, who had seen the occurrence
And didn’t know what to do next
Said, “Mother! Yon lions ‘et Albert”
And Mother said “Eeh, I am vexed!”

So Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Quite rightly, when all’s said and done
Complained to the Animal Keeper
That the lion had eaten their son.

The keeper was quite nice about it
He said, “What a nasty mishap
Are you sure that it’s your lad he’s eaten?”
Pa said, “Am I sure? There’s his cap!”

So the manager had to be sent for
He came and he said, “What’s to do?”
Pa said, “Yon lion’s ‘eaten our Albert
And ‘im in his Sunday clothes, too.”

Then Mother said, “Right’s right, young feller
I think it’s a shame and a sin
For a lion to go and eat Albert
And after we’ve paid to come in!”

The manager wanted no trouble
He took out his purse right away
And said, “How much to settle the matter?”
And Pa said “What do you usually pay?”

But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone
She said, “No! someone’s got to be summonsed”
So that were decided upon.

Round they went to the Police Station
In front of a Magistrate chap
They told ‘im what happened to Albert
And proved it by showing his cap.

The Magistrate gave his o-pinion
That no-one was really to blame
He said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.

At that Mother got proper blazing
“And thank you, sir, kindly,” said she
“What waste all our lives raising children
To feed ruddy lions? Not me!”

~~~~~

Memory’s like that.  Sometimes the oddest things happen. I spent a pleasant morning finding this stuff.

Albert and the Lion
* The comment was not related to the poem, by the way, but rather ab irato; critical comments by another blogger about what I write here.